As the temperatures continue to soar, we can officially and happily say that summer is here to stay - at least for the next couple of months. And as we all rush outdoors to bask in the sunshine and the heat, it is important to show our skin some TLC. We all know to lather up in sunscreen but what exactly are the best practices when it comes to protecting ourselves from the sun. We spoke with Dermatologist and Melanoma Network of Canada representative Dr. Julia Carroll on proper sun care practices.
With the weather getting warmer, more people are of course spending time outside. Talk to us about how to properly use sunscreen. What are the do's and don'ts?
• Apply sunscreen every day when outdoors. The sun emits harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays all year round.
• Apply sunscreen indoors if you are sitting near a window, this includes in your car!
• Choose SPF 30 or higher.
• Use a generous amount of sunscreen, around ¼ of a spoon or 2 fingers and reapply (even a waterproof sunscreen), based on activity level, immediately after swimming, towelling off or sweating heavily.
• Avoid makeup based SPF, as they typically won't have enough SPF in it and it's hard to tell if you have enough of it on for it to be effective. You should always be putting SPF on either before or after makeup application to make sure your skin is protected.
• Don't forget about the rest of your body. Make sure you're applying SPF to your neck, upper chest, arms, ears and hands. These are the areas that are often left exposed. I always tell my patients that you should start the day by applying a base layer of sunscreen to your entire body as soon as you step out of the shower in the morning.
• Don't rely on sunscreen alone – make sure you're using lip balms, hats and sunglasses as well. Also, seek shade between the peak sun hours of 11 am and 3 pm.
When it comes to choosing the right sunscreen, what are some things people need to look out for?
These are the things I always tell my patients to look for when they're looking at sunscreens:
• Sunscreens should be broad-spectrum – this means that they will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays.
• Look for sunscreens that are water-resistant.
• Be sure to read the expiration date on the bottle. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness over time.
• Look for a sunscreen that you feel comfortable with and are willing to apply every day.
Can you talk to us what the SPF numbers actually mean?
SPF numbers only give an indication of how well the sunscreen protects skin against UVB radiation, not the deeper-penetrating UVA
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and the number indicates how well the sunscreen protects skin against sunburn. One thing to know is that SPF numbers only give an indication of how well the sunscreen protects skin against UVB radiation, not the deeper-penetrating UVA. If you want protection against both, you'll need to check that your sunscreen is 'broad spectrum'. Using a high-SPF sunscreen (SPF higher than 50), provides greater protection against sunburn and UV-induced skin cell damage over sunscreens with low SPF values. SPF 30 sunscreens block approximately 97% of the sun's rays. Higher number SPFs block slightly more of the sun's rays but there isn't a sunscreen that can block 100% of the sun's rays. It's also important to remember that high-number SPF sunscreens last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs, and they all need to be reapplied throughout the day.
What's a huge misconception about sun care that you'd like people to know?
There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan. A "base tan" provides little to no protection against sunburn, and any tan or change in skin colour is a sign of skin damage. Exposure to UVA and UVB radiation from tanning equipment can cause sunburn and eye damage, as well as increase the risk of skin cancer. Early exposure to tanning beds can increase a person's chance of developing melanoma by up to 75% and among those who first used a sunbed before age 35, the risk of melanoma is increased by 59%.
Dr. Julia Carroll is a board-certified dermatologist and regular contributor to local and national media. She is also the co-founder of Compass Dermatology in downtown Toronto. Her philosophy is based on delivering realistic, natural results while bridging the gap between cutting edge and more established treatments.